Pumpkins At A Premium, Thanks To Hurricane Irene

Northeast residents who hope to carve jack-o-lanterns this Halloween may have to shop around. Tropical Storm Irene destroyed pumpkin patches in Upstate New York and other areas. Other farms, though, were left with a bumper crop. Marie Cusick visits Black Horse Farms in Athens, N.Y., where pumpkins are selling out fast.

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There's something missing this year from the fall scenery in the Northeast, especially in upstate New York. The state is normally a top pumpkin producer, but about a third of its crop was destroyed in the recent tropical storms.

Marie Cusick, of NPR member station WMHT in Albany, takes us to one farm that was spared.

MARIE CUSICK: There's no shortage of pumpkins at the Black Horse Farms roadside stand in Athens, New York. But some customers still aren't taking any chances.

KAREN DICICCO: I was worried about getting a pumpkin and I figured I'd get mine here since I'm here.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CASH REGISTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Sixteen twenty-eight.

CUSICK: Karen Dicicco heard about pumpkin shortages, so she's happy to snag an extra-large large one here and happy to pay less than she would have at home in New York City.

DICICCO: Looks like a perfect pumpkin. Ten dollars, perfect. I can drive it home and not have to deal with it when I get back to Queens.

CUSICK: Although fall has just begun, demand for pumpkins has been steadier than usual, says Chellie Apa, who manages her family's farm stand.

CHELLIE APA: I believe they're buying pumpkins earlier, because I think they're afraid there won't be any.

CUSICK: Black Horse Farms is nestled in the Hudson River Valley along the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains. It was spared much of the flooding from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee that devastated other parts of the region.

Apa says she's grateful.

APA: Oh, we feel so blessed, and we feel so horrible for those poor people that have been so destroyed by the hurricane.

CUSICK: But her family business didn't escape the storms unscathed. Apa's sister, Lisa Burhmaster helps run their main farm, down the road from the stand. Burhmaster says they lost about a fifth of their pumpkin crop, when a field they own 40 miles away was inundated.

LISA BURHMASTER: We lost a field up in Schenectady that was along the Mohawk River. And those pumpkins are completely useless now. We've got a little bit of the damage in the fields here, which everybody does. But for the most part, most of the pumpkins are good.

CUSICK: Burhmaster says they were lucky to have a bumper crop down here in Athens. Workers are busy power-washing the pumpkins and loading them into bins.

(SOUNDBITE OF A WATER HOSE)

FARMS: It takes a lot. There's about 20 guys we have that harvest these pumpkins and bring them down, and they're just working all the time. They're great.

CUSICK: Most of their pumpkins are retailed to local grocery stores. Some go to New York City. Others are sent to national chains like Whole Foods. The rest are sold at their farm stands.

FARMS: Yesterday, there was about 5,000 pumpkins that went out of here.

CUSICK: But with her losses, and shortages elsewhere, Burhmaster admits that people will pay about 20 percent more for her Jack-o'-lanterns this Halloween. However, she says, there's no need to get spooked about the supply.

FARMS: Don't do a run on the pumpkins. But do buy your pumpkins. Don't be scared.

CUSICK: For NPR News, I'm Marie Cusick in Athens, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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